Mark Steel: Oh, no! How can I pay the school fees?

Ignoring your children is really the only loving thing a good parent can do

Rarely has one article explained so much as one that's just appeared in the Daily Telegraph. It started with the headline "Boarding school – one way to beat the nanny fees". And who of us isn't finding this issue the most depressing aspect of the current austerity? You read about poverty but it doesn't sink in that in some areas, such as former pit villages or the most deprived tower blocks in Manchester, there are families being forced to work out how to beat the nanny fees.

I remember the stigma some kids had if they were entitled to free school dinners, so we can only imagine the torture of being in one of those families, desperate to hide the truth as their classmates would taunt them all day, singing: "He struggles to pay his nanny, his resemblance to Gandhi's uncanny!"

The article explains that: "Parental input involves ferrying children to music lessons, private tutors and dental appointments. Opt out of this and you must employ someone else to do it." Yes, you must. It may seem hard to believe but I hear there are some parents who don't employ private tutors at all, and yet if you call social services it can take weeks before anyone comes round to take these kids away from this brutal environment and put them into care. (Having said that, burning them with cigarette stubs so that after 267 visits they're taken off and fostered is another way to beat the nanny fees).

Private tuition is what being a good parent is all about, so ignoring your children while someone else takes them, or sending them away for several months at a time, is the only loving thing you can do. After all, as a barrister or investment banker, you'll be on at least £300 an hour, so if you give them a lift to the dentist you'll have to invoice them for several hundred pounds, which wouldn't be fair on the little mites. It makes you feel for the Greeks, as their situation is now so bad they must be working out ways to beat the gardeners' fees as well.

Surely when musicians from Africa hear about this awful situation, they'll get together to form "Nanny Aid", with a single for Christmas that goes, "There's a place where a gift's not a teddy or a scooter/But forty grand's worth of lifts to a private bloody tutor."

Until then, we must accept the grim economic outlook and send our children to boarding school. At least there they'll receive an education, learning about matters such as how certain people in society have kids, then pay no attention to them for years because they can't be bothered to look after them, then some of these feral kids end up spongeing bonuses off the rest of us, and that's how we got in this mess in the first place.

'Mark Steel's in Town' is published this week by Fourth Estate

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